As working adults with busy, complicated lives, sometimes our nights are more like “Where the Wild Things Are” than “Bedtime for Francis.” Quality sleep eludes us, and we wake feeling more like a character from “A Wrinkle in Time” than ourselves.
So we tell our family doctor that we can get to sleep, but we can’t stay asleep. We get sent to do a sleep study, and we’re told we need a C-PAP machine. We buy it, but don’t like wearing a mask to bed, so it collects dust in the far reaches of our basement.
Then we feel guilty.
We spent all that money and we don’t use the machine. We lay awake, tossing and turning, wondering when we will go to the land of sleep. And we do, but now it’s morning, and the alarm is sounding.
Soda Kuczkowski, born and raised in Buffalo, wants to help people get the sleep they deserve and need. She understands the frustration of many and has a sleep theory that can help. Pulling from her more than a decade in physician offices and hospitals to address the needs of undiagnosed sleep disorders, she wants to help Buffalonians experience their best sleep. While she enjoyed the work, Kuczkowski felt like she wanted to do more to address patients’ sleep needs and health. And so Start with Sleep was hatched.
“I love Buffalo!” she says, and attributes her passion for teaching to her mom, who had a Ph.D. and was a teacher. “I like to meet people where they are in their lives. I try to simplify the science of sleep and help people learn how they can help themselves.”
She has dedicated herself to educating people about sleep and helping them identify the factors that may contribute to inadequate sleep. She isn’t a medical doctor, and she isn’t going to push sleep machines or products—although she does have a boutique that sells products that she feels could help, such as blue blocker glasses, which blocks the glow from electronic devices that suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that drives sleep. A sleep health educator, she helps patients get a good night’s sleep naturally and safely, taking into consideration many factors likes lifestyle, nutrition, stress levels, and circadian rhythm.
She opened her business on Small Business Saturday in 2015 in a 700-square-foot building on Hertel Avenue. She had no plans to grow the business, but when the space next door became available the next year, she didn’t need to sleep on it to know it was a good next step. Her new space at 1211 Hertel gave her an additional 1,300 square feet, used to offer sleep consultations and sleep quality testing; facilitate medical testing at home and in-lab setting; host restorative and yoga nidra classes, support groups, and workshops to address air quality, aromatherapy, and sleep health education. It even has a full kitchen to offer cooking classes and nutrition support. “What we eat affects how well we sleep!” she said. Her clients range in age from 6 ½ months to adults.
Kuczkowski’s boutique fits right in on Hertel, a bustling melting pot of shops to meet every need. She purposely designed her space with wood and black and white décor. Her product packaging is obvious in its lack of color so that it appeals to both genders.
With her knowledge and skills, she could have opened shop almost anywhere, but she chose the City of Good Neighbors because that is exactly what she tries to be. She hopes her place is a place where they can learn how to get better sleep and feel more rested.
“I am needed in Buffalo,” she said. “Buffalo is the seventh worse place in the United States to get a good night’s sleep. With all our resources, such as Roswell and Dent Neurological Institute, there are still a lot of health problems because of the ongoing construction, air quality, light pollution, obesity, and the type of industries that make up the local workforce. We have a lot of shiftwork because many work in healthcare, manufacturing, law enforcement, emergency response, military, and hospitality.” The largest part of her business lies in working with businesses on their corporate wellness initiatives.
Kuczkowski used her own savings to open Start with Sleep, but is grateful for the support she receives from local businesses. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing as she has built her brand—people are often apprehensive about seeking help about sleep issues, she said—“and it’s easy for them to tiptoe around the real issues affecting their sleep until it becomes a medical issue, which is why I wanted to focus on the preventive end of healthcare.”
Start with Sleep works with other insurances to reduce healthcare costs by addressing sleep health and to make it more cost effective for individuals to seek the help they need. She accepts Independent Health’s Flex Fit card and Kuczkowski is working with Blue Cross Blue Shield to help patients with that insurance. “There are always hurdles to insurance,” she said.
When asked what some of her successes have been, she immediately talks about her clients.
“I love the people I work with, and I am especially happy when they share what they have learned with friends and family and they return to continuing education themselves. I think I provide the information in a way that is simple to understand and apply. It empowers people to be their own best health advocate.”
As she looks to the future, Kuczkowski is especially proud to offer programs to support new and expecting parents. As a mom she knows how important sleep is for her own daughter's health and wants to support local families to do the same.
She hopes to extend from working with faculty and staff of local schools to implementing the curriculum into their health education programs, so that the foundation for healthy sleep habits and patterns are integrated into the learning process to help students improve academic success and help play an important role in the current mental health initiatives.